Finding the right gadget, software or application for the differently abled is easier than you think.

There is a world of difference between helping a person with special needs to do a task versus enabling the person to use a tool to do the same task independently. The operative words here are “tool” and “independence”. Assistive Technology has the potential and the range to be the tool that may be used to achieve independence.

Assistive Technology (AT) helps one do something they couldn’t do otherwise like walk, learn, communicate and more. The term “technology” is best contextualised by its Oxford dictionary definition as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes”. Going by this definition, AT comprises not only sophisticated gadgets/computer hardware or software, but a whole range of applications from a foam grip that enables a child to grasp a crayon, to a magnifier that enables a student to read, or sophisticated software that enables conversion of speech to text on a computer screen.

AT maybe broadly classified into low/no tech, mid tech and high tech.

Further, it may also be categorised by areas of remediation. It may be generic or specific. Some of it may be available off the shelf and some may have to be custom-made. As the word implies, low/no tech AT includes simple adaptations such as scaffolds/highlighters, velcro fasteners, straps for safety or even low-effort, easy-to-use kitchen tools easily available today.

Mid tech AT includes talking calculators, talking clocks/watches and a range of basic button-operated devices.

High tech AT includes sophisticated, often expensive, gadgets such as sip and puff systems, talking word processors/speech synthesisers, Braille embossers and displays, Assistive and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices, prosthesis (an implanted/external device that substitutes for a missing body part), alternative computer access devices such as coloured large-display keyboards, trackballs, joysticks, touchpads & touchscreens.

Different areas of remediation like mobility, posture, access, communication, vision, hearing, reading/learning, Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), leisure and recreation, may have low, mid and high tech AT.

For mobility, AT ranges from a walker with adapted wheels & handgrips to a crawling assist to a motorised wheelchair. For reading/learning, AT ranges from page/text highlighters to audio books to sophisticated hardware and software that enhance reading. Often AT works better as a combination of solutions than as a standalone application.

Extensive research and development has been going on in various parts of India and the world to add more to the range of Assistive Technology available in the market. Information on the products may be accessed from a handful of centres in India. Spastics Society of Karnataka has a dedicated Assistive Technology centre (CATELST) setup in collaboration with PACER centre, the US.

The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu has collaborations for development of AT with research institutions.

The wide range of AT may sometimes be overwhelming and one may not know where to start. With the intervention of an informed special educator, finding AT is worthwhile and easier than one might think.

kumudha.c@gmail.com

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